Friday 30th June, UberBOAT Croatia launched in Split and we were on the first trip to see whether the hype is justified.
I arrived on the Riva in Split just before 11am to camera crews, UBER flags flying and a lot of buzz.
I was more than excited to get on the water after a 2-hour commute from Dugi Rat to Split (it is only 22 km). Oh yes, the summer season and summer traffic is well and truly upon us. So, hot, sweaty and bothered I boarded our ride and was instantly greeted with a smile by Tamara and Marin, our skipper and ‘hostess/sailor’ for the day – the bus ride and traffic already seemed a million miles away. We were also given a little Uber goodie bag, which made me laugh and told me it is definitely Uber Croatia – as well as items like sunglasses and insect repellent, there was also a lighter. No more words needed.
Now, before I continue, let me lay it out straight – yes this was a press-trip, but this isn’t your typical commercial-crap; Uber is a worldwide platform and the launch of Uber BOAT Croatia has gained international media attention, so we were curious to see the realities of it for ourselves. Being that I have worked on yachts for five years on the Adriatic and do my best to support and rally for local business, I volunteered because I wanted to a) see it in action and b) get a chance to talk to the top Uber guys about the ins-and-outs of the project. I went into it with my doubts as to the practicalities, ease, price and how it will affect local businesses. So, read on for my full account.
Before we sped off, our skipper Marin asked us if we wanted a small panorama tour of Split – an easy yes.
Then we were off to our destination for the day – the island Šolta. Now, this is no mild-mannered boat ride; these boats can go speeds up to 22-knots (approximately 40km per hour or for our American friends – 25 miles per hour). Šolta is about 15 Nm (nautical miles) away from Split, so the trip took just under an hour and according to the Uber calculator, the trip would cost roughly 870 – 1,000 kuna for an Uber BOAT (up to 8 people), or 1,300 – 1,500 kuna for a BOAT XL (up to 12 people). Let’s do some quick maths – that’s around 125 kuna per person or £15!
Weather-wise, it was a beautiful day, but Jugo had been blowing for almost 3 days, so the sea was choppy, which meant the ride was a little more ‘exciting’ than usual – in other words, I got drenched. Thankfully the crew on our boat handed us all jackets at the beginning; I may have scoffed to myself quietly thinking – I am a seadog… but we did need them. It didn’t worry me in the slightest, it only added to the adventure and being that it was a 30-something degree day, the fresh salt-spray was welcome and we dried within minutes of arriving to Maslinica on Šolta. During summer, the Adriatic is generally very calm, so I doubt there would be as much water-action, but if ordering an Uber BOAT, I would dress appropriately nonetheless.
Of course, there was little fun had between the boats along the way…
As we slowed down and made our way into the bay of Maslinica, we drove past many different boats and holidaymakers. Everyone was curious and waving at us (the Uber flags made a big enough statement); including the crew and guests of two Luxury yachts, one guest in particular caught all the men’s eyes, but as this is a family show, I won’t post a picture, needless to say – some people like to get a full tan…
Ah Šolta, one of my favourite destinations (along with Sušac, Komiža and Kornati). There is something about Šolta; even though it is only an hour away from Split, it is still not a touristic hot-spot, which means that it has managed to retain its local charm. The second we pulled in, I knew we would be having lunch at one of the highlight restaurants along the coast – Martinis Marchi. Martinis is a lavish 300-year-old Heritage Hotel and restaurant which has been newly renovated. It easily holds an air of exclusivity about it (we all like to feel a little spesh from time-to-time) owing to the fact that you can only get to Šolta by boat, the hotel is situated right in front of the Marina – so yachts can dock directly in front and the Hotel itself only has 9 rooms.
We were welcomed only as Martinis can – with broad smiles and a glass of prosecco. Yes please.
Before lunch we had a 20-minute presentation about Uber BOAT Croatia and a Q&A session with the General Manager of Uber for South-East Europe – Davor Tremac. For the sake of ease (and because I know most of us skim-read these days), I will lay out some of my personal questions along with their answers below (the rest has been covered in our official Uber launch article here).
What, do you see are the main benefits of Uber BOAT (whatcha’ bringing to the market)?
There are two facets of the operation, boat transfers and an adventure ‘island-hopping’.
Transfers: We will be available for basic transfers, i.e. from the airport to Split or even from the Airport straight to Hvar.
Island-Hopping: A lot of tourists come to Croatia as a large group of friends or family, so it makes it easier to organise a private boat trip for day’s adventure island hopping – guests can either create their own itinerary, or our skippers are all experienced and know the region well, so they are all capable of suggesting a route, restaurants and highlights.
Spontaneity: Uber is a brand and name people trust and if people only come to Split for 2 – 3 days and don’t want to deal with planning in advance, they can decide last minute to jump on Uber BOAT and get across to an island without much forethought. We are making boating and the islands more accessible.
Cost, break it down for me, how does it work? Do you have any fixed-rates or is it all per minute/mile?
There is a fixed-rate from let’s say the Split airport to Hvar, around $400. We will use this season to figure out the demand. For example, we already had a request to Bol yesterday and today, so if that continues we will add a fixed rate. Otherwise it is per minute and mile. (You can check out the calculator online and fixed-rate options).
What about actual payment, surely not everyone wants to foot a 1,000 kuna bill in one go?
We have a split-fare option – everyone needs to download the app, but once they do, you select split-fare and enter the other users, then the entire fare will be split evenly over however many accounts.
Is there a pooling option because not everyone travels in groups of eight?
Right now, no. It is administratively more difficult to organise to share a boat than a car, but we may work on it if there is demand.
How will this affect small local businesses?
Just like Uber, we don’t own any boats, we cooperate with local businesses. Firstly, this means they are all registered and insured, second it actually means more business for them all. Often transfer companies drive one-way to let’s say Hvar and then they need to come back empty. Now, they have the option, to make themselves available on the app and get a full trip back. It will increase their business and open up the boating world to new users.
These were my main questions and in all honestly, answered quite well. But that was enough grilling Davor, it was time for lunch.
I have been to Martinis a number of times lately – for a regatta, for a wedding and now a more informal setting of lunch and it has yet to disappoint. We had tuna carpaccio for entree, crispy seabass with grilled vegetables for main and a rich chocolate mousse with brownie for desert; all washed down with one of my favourite wines – Pošip from Korta Katarina Winery. Divine.
With a little free time on our hands, some took the opportunity to swim in Šolta’s crystalline waters, the rest of us sat back with a glass of wine or coffee, just taking it all in. I got chatting to some fellow journos – half were from Split or surroundings, while the rest were from Zagreb, all Croatians AND, only about 10% of them had ever been to Šolta before. Which surprises me and doesn’t – I sometimes take for granted the fact that I have worked at sea for five years and have visited the majority of islands from Split to Dubrovnik and a decent handful towards the Kornati islands. So, it was actually really heart-warming to see everyone enjoying a new experience – overall impressions from the group? They were in love with Šolta, blown-away with Martinis Marchi and Uber BOAT of course… but we will get to that.
Then, it was time to board the boat again and make our way back to Split.
Some feeling the effects of the sunshine and wine…
Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better (my fellow colleagues probably hate me right now), we spotted a pod of dolphins swimming just ahead. Seriously Croatia, stop it.
We were back in Split in the blink of an eye, but not before my heart remembered just how much I love being at sea. So, with a replenished soul and sun-kissed, salty skin, we were back and… sweating in the heat again.
As we bid farewell, I was almost tempted to book a ride to Dugi Rat because the thought of getting on a bus after such a perfect day was not ideal.
So, let’s cut to the chase – my honest opinion?
The hype is justified.
I can see the value. I really do think it will open up the boating market to a whole new group of users. Though, it is not the cheapest option, unless you have a group of 6 – 8, it is not going to work for everyone’s travel budget. However, in saying that – when I was backpacking (many moons ago), I often shared travel costs or ended up on day-trips with people I had just met in a hostel, so organising an Uber BOAT last minute is possible with the split-fare option.
Transfers from the airport make sense – as the traffic from Split to the airport is just as horrendous as what I experienced in the morning.
How will locals feel about this? I can’t say, typically no one likes change. I won’t go into the extreme resistance Uber has been facing in Croatia recently (you can read about it here). Hopefully something similar doesn’t happen with Uber BOAT because the fact is, while it may reduce work for local taxis, it gives more work and freedom to others.
Lastly, like I said, I was on a trip with a dozen other Croatian journalists, almost all of whom were on island Šolta for the first time – so maybe it will even encourage locals to travel their own islands more. I myself, am more the spontaneous traveller, basically because my life is so hectic and has the tendency to change in a heartbeat, so I like the idea of being able to organise a spur the moment boat-trip, it’s kinda like a last-minute road trip!
All in all, I was impressed with the day, the service, the Uber team and I can actually see myself using Uber BOAT (which I never thought I would say). Also, worth noting the professionalism of Marin and Tamara; my husband (who is a Captain) would be happy to know that the crew knew what they were doing.
Big thanks to Davor Tremac, Matija Mesić and your team for a great day.
If you want to learn more about Uber Croatia, visit their web page here.